Parents: Help Your Kids Make the Most of Winter Break

Winter break is a great chance for students to have real-world experiences.

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With cold weather, the holidays, and plenty of distractions, it can be tough to get motivated over winter break. But the holiday break is also one of the best times for high school students to do independent research, take an educational trip, or volunteer in the community.

Studies have shown that students lose up to two months of math and reading knowledge over summer break. While winter break is much shorter, Yvette Jackson, CEO of the National Urban Alliance, a nonprofit that focuses on improving student engagement in low-income schools, says teachers should give students a fun project to work on over break to keep them interested in what they're studying.

For example, instead of having students answer comprehension questions about the Constitution, teachers can have them take a broader view.

"Allow students to explore what ideas are connected to the Constitution: freedom, liberty, allowing them to do things they enjoy; all of those are straight out of the Constitution," she says.

Students may not want to do work over the break, even a "fun project," but open-ended assignments are more useful than specific assignments, she says. "When students are engaged in studying one of their areas of interest, they're apt to do involved, deep reading and work in an independent fashion."

[Apply these summer learning strategies during the winter.]

If your teen doesn't have an assignment over the break or is just getting restless, Jackson says parents can take advantage of the free time. Think about educational, fun places near your home, such as a museum, zoo, or factory. It's even better if you can connect the experience with what your child is studying in school, she says.

"Talk with your child about places you can go that will allow them to reflect on what they're learning," she says. "This allows a lot of great conversations about their interests, and [helps them learn] what opportunities can be had in college and beyond."

[Learn more about applying to college.]

If money is tight or your schedule doesn't permit a trip, Jackson recommends trying an electronic field trip. The National Parks Foundation, Ball State University, and the Smithsonian Institution all offer virtual field trips that give students a close-up view of popular destinations around the United States and the world.

Whether you take your child somewhere or they take a virtual field trip, make sure you talk with your child during or after the trip.

"The experience means nothing for a child unless there's something that goes along with it that can help the child analyze what they've been looking at," Jackson says. "If you're going to a museum, it's a great chance to talk about what it all means."

While helping your kids understand the larger significance of their break experiences, parents might also consider encouraging them to give back. The holidays are a great time for students to complete community service that is required for graduation in many districts.

Food pantries and soup kitchens often have plenty of volunteers during the holidays, but many could always use an extra hand. The United Way and VolunteerMatch have extensive databases of locations looking for holiday help.

"The holidays are a time of year when we come together as a community," a recent United Way holiday publication notes. "We make the extra effort to look for the things that bring us together and unite us."

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